In the heart of Imamwada
Although popularly known for being the centre of Muharram processions, Imamwada Road is filled with historical sites, sounds and other fascinating pit stops that are over 200 years old. Hassan M Kamal takes us on a night trail through this historical sub-precinct in Dongri
Stop 1 > Imamwada Corner and Pipe Gully
As you enter the Imamwada Road, away from the hustle-bustle of Mohammad Ali Road and its endless row of hawkers, right at the Imamwada Corner, you encounter two distinctly similar restaurants facing each other — Café Kaushar and Café Gulshan. Cafe Kaushar was sold to a Muslim family, based in Goregaon in the 1980s when the original Iranian owners moved out of the area. It now serves Chinese dishes among a variety of meat dishes like Chana Boti, Boti Fry and Mutton Kheema, and an amazingly delicious Gulab Jamun.
On your left is the Pipe Gully known to offer solutions for all pipe-fitting related problems. This gully is also home to delicious Seekh Kebab and Bhuna by Iqbal, popularly known as Iqbal Nan-Chapwala.
Stop 2 > Kite’s Gully
The Imamwada Road is the main market for kites. One of the oldest markets in the city, the line of kite shops begin after Cafe Kaushar, and some are even 100 years old. The oldest kite shop in the area is the Farhan Kite Centre, founded by Abdulla Hashim Patangwala. Another popular kite shop in the area is Dongri Kite Centre, run by Mohammed Malik Ansari.
Stop 3 > Ali Baba’s Hookahs
Situated right between Dongri Kite Centre, and Moghul Masjid is the popular Ali Baba’s Hookah store. Started in the 1990s, the shop is managed by Ali Baba, who procures the hookahs from Iran, Dubai, China and Moradabad (Uttar Pradesh).
Stop 4 > Moghul Masjid
The Iranian Masjid, popularly known as Moghul Masjid started in the year 1860. “It was built by an Iranian businessman, Haji Mohammad Hussain Shiraji,” says Ali Namazi, honorary secretary of the mosque. The soil for the mehrab (a semicircular niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates direction of the Kaaba in Mecca) of the mosque, says Namazi, was brought from Karbala.
The mosque bears Shirazi design, found in the city of Shiraz in Iran. The mosque was refurbished in the 1990s by Iranian architect Reza Kabul. He added the mosaic work at the entrance of the mosque, and inside the prayer hall. “The tiles, chandeliers and carpets, all were brought from Iran for the mosque. Even the craftsmen came from Iran,” adds Namazi. An important characteristic of Shirazi architecture was a water body in front of the building as seen in the picture above.
Stop 5 > Irani Hamam
You can also spot the only surviving Irani Hamam here. Supposed to have been built around the time when the Moghul Masjid started, it was popular among the Iranians living here, who would frequent it for a good scrub from its trained masseurs. Built in traditional Irani style, it has a tiny water tank in the centre with dome-type sitting arrangement in the sides. When we dropped by, we found a strange-looking man with long lady-like hair, waiting for his turn. The water tank bred fish, and the massage area was turned into kitchen by its occupants. We spotted metal tokens, which were used in its glory days by visitors. It might be too awkward a place for most of us, but visitors can get a good Irani massage for Rs 150.
Stop 6 > Masjid Umar Farooq
Going further towards the end of the Imamwada Road, you will find the Masjid Umar Farooq on your right. It’s also one of the oldest mosques, and while exact date is not known, it’s believed to be more than 100 years old.
Stop 7 > Old Umerkhadi Jail
The Imamwada Road ends with the old Umerkhadi Jail. “Every corner in this area is filled with history,” says Shakeel Ansari, a resident of Imamwada Road. Built in 1804, this jail was used by the British to imprison Bal Gangadhar Tilak during India’s Struggle For Independence.
Today, the old Umerkhadi Jail is home to Asha Sadan Rescue Home, a support centre for women and children below six years. “But it remains a popular place among Tilak’s followers, and has been visited by several people including Jawahar Lal Nehru,” he adds. Most buildings here, says Ansari, are over 100 years old and the people have been living here for generations.